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Adventures of the Great Pumpkin

October 19, 2011

“It’s the great pumpkin Charlie Brown!” – who doesn’t love this holiday classic?

Pumpkin – the common ingredient for America’s favorite pies, lattes and glowing faces. However, this grand gourd is not commonly associated with the likes of the Sunshine State. Pumpkins are more commonly grown up north. In fact, according to the University of Illinois, 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the United States are raised within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Illinois. Morton, a town near Peoria, is the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World. Morton is also the location of a Libby’s® pumpkin processing plant which cans more than 85 percent of the world’s pumpkin each year.

Due to our warm, sticky climate in the Sunshine State, we don’t have the proper conditions for growing pumpkins on a large scale – especially since planting occurs during the peak of our summer. But many Florida growers who enjoy fall festivities are piddling with their pumpkin plants as we speak – and you could be too!

Start your own pumpkin patch

If the kiddos love carving these holiday favorites, they’ll absolutely enjoy helping you grow them. It may be a little late this year, but remember next year to go green and plant your own pumpkins. Here are some growing tips from UF/IFAS: 

  • Most pumpkin varieties need 3½ to 4 months to mature – should be seeded by July 4 to be ready for Halloween.
  • Most pumpkins, except the bush types, need at least 6 feet in each direction to spread and grow.
  • Plant three to four seeds in a hill, and then remove all but the strongest plant when they reach 2-4 inches tall.
  • Pumpkins respond well to liberal amounts of organic compost. Place one of compost (chicken or cow manure), under each hill before seeding. Mix a handful of 666 fertilizer into each hill when preparing. Sidedress with a handful of 666 every 3 weeks or as needed.
  • All pumpkins have both male and female flowers on each plant so bees are needed to transfer pollen. When the plant has two small pumpkins about the size of baseballs, remove all others as they form. This allows the two that remain to reach fairly large size.

DPI smashes pest problem with pumpkins

FDACS DPI is working with the USDA on a biological control program which uses pumpkins to help control the pink hibiscus mealybug (PHM). The PHM is a sap-sucking insect that feeds on the plant sap and releases toxic substances causing injury and death. It is spread by wind, ants, clothing, hair of animals, and the movement of infested plants. This pest poses a serious economic threat to the agriculture and nursery industries, residential plants and landscapes.

Pink Hibiscus Mealybug on pumpkin

They consume more than 200 species of plants, including tomato, hibiscus, avocado and pumpkin. The program mass produces the natural enemies of the pink hibiscus mealybug and uses these natural enemies to help control the spread of PHM. DPI established an insectary to mass produce two parasitic wasps and one predatory beetle. The two species of wasps, Anagyrus kamali and Gyranusoidia indica, are small and stingless, they use PHM as a host to complete their life cycle. In addition, the predatory beetle, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, will prey upon PHM, killing them in the process. Both the parasites and the predator used in this project are also used in other countries and islands in the Caribbean to control the spread of the pink hibiscus mealybug. These parasites and the predator are well documented to be effective towards control of PHM while remaining harmless to people, plants and other animals. You can help!

  1. Do NOT cut or trim the plants you think have PHM! PHM spreads most easily by the wind and the movement of infested plants.
  2. The use of pesticides on your plants should be avoided. Pesticides will kill the biocontrol insects used to attack PHM.
  3. Please provide our inspectors access to your property. All state and federal agriculture inspectors carry proper identification and drive vehicles with state/federal emblems.
  4. If plants are already cut, double-bag in plastic all plant cuttings (leaves, branches, flowers, etc.) and put them out with regular household garbage, NOT yard trash.
  5. Lawn/landscape companies in Broward and Miami-Dade counties are required to COVER ALL CUTTINGS while transporting; though businesses should also NOT cut or trim suspected plants.

Eat, drink and be scary

Below you will find a magical mix of ingredients that children of all ages will enjoy – pumpkin muffins. This alternative to the traditional pumpkin pie is a treat that my friends and family beg for this time of year. Be generous with the pumpkin now! That’s the best part.

Mix dry ingredients…

  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger

Then add…

  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cup pumpkin

Another festive recipe is Libby’s Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Filling. This super simple recipe is perfect for those who enjoy a little sweetness in their life. It’s also great if you substitute pecans in place of the walnuts. For more great pumpkin recipes, click here. Do you have any other great pumpkin recipes? Please share them with us!

Stingy Jack the Jack-o-Lantern

Every year, trick-or-treaters across America travel from house to house, colleting goodies from their neighbors’ doorsteps. Who is the first to greet them? None other than Stingy Jack himself – the glowing orange face that scowls at all the passers-by. But how did this Halloween figure get his name?

Jack-o-lanterns originated from an Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack. Jack outwitted the Devil a few times during his life. When he died, God wouldn’t let him into heaven and the Devil wouldn’t let him into hell. He was stuck. Read along to see how Stingy Jack came to be Jack-o-Lantern.

Although these holiday decorations are commonly carved from pumpkins, the original Jack-o-Lanterns were carved from turnips, potatoes or beets. Carve your own pumpkin with these tips from Disney! Have any great photos of your own Stingy Jack creations? Please share them with us.

Happy pumpkin-ing! :)

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